This year Christmas is going to be a lot better than last Christmas. Erik and myself were worn out with preparing our house to put it on the market and had painted and decorated for months, then started the arduous task of sorting out and packing up all our worldly goods and chattels in the hope that the sale of our house would not fall through.
Added to that, we travelled down to Tetbury in Gloucestershire the weekend before Christmas for our niece’s wedding. It was a welcome break, and a brilliant few days spent with family and old friends. The setting for the wedding was superb – an ancient country house in the middle of nowhere, full of atmosphere (and it’s own ghost, according to those in the know). Our niece looked beautiful, the food was fabulous and we had a wonderful time. But we travelled back to Yorkshire two days before Christmas. And, with our decorations packed, and family doing their own thing, we spent Christmas Day with a turkey for two, the log burner and a lot of TV to watch. Not bad, you may say, but I just love a family Christmas.
So, this year, in our little house, it will be heaving at the seams. Christmas Dinner ‘What does everyone want to eat’ forms have been sent out, and the results are …… shall we say …… interesting for me to try and work out. Some want Beef (or Steak), some like Turkey, some don’t like Turkey but like Chicken, Yorkshire Puddings are on the children’s list (which covers a whole A4 page of a notebook) – so I have decided to plan ahead and prepare an freeze whatever I can to make the day a relaxing one, hopefully! Instead of a great 4-oven AGA plus an electric cooker and hob, I now have a rickety old electric oven and a hob that goes up and down when it feels like it. So it should be fun!
Thankfully my order from Donald Russell, (purveyors of superb meat, fish and poultry) is arriving on Monday, so I will be able to tick off the Beef/steak option.They had a brilliant Special Offer on the Chateaubriand, so for once I succumbed to this luxury piece of beautiful meat as a very special treat.
I’m still deciding whether to buy a Turkey Crown for the Christmas Day, and a small Chicken, to make life easy. But the problem is I like to buy a Turkey with Giblets, (which do seem hard to find nowadays) to make the stock for the gravy, so that after our Christmas Dinner we still have loads of Turkey meat to make up pies etc., after which I will find my biggest stockpot and tip in the turkey bones, remnants of the giblet stock and turkey gravy, add lots of water, an onion, carrot and celery plus a small handful of black peppercorns, bring to the boil, then simmer for a couple of hours to make superb Turkey stock to add to homemade soups. I freeze this in plastic freezer boxes to use over the next few months. The taste this homemade Turkey Stock makes to soups, especially packet ones if you haven’t time to make soup from scratch, is amazing.
One my favourite ways to use the Turkey Stock over the Christmas period is to use 2 or 3, dare I say, ready made packets of Minestrone Soup. I gently fry some chopped bacon or pancetta, add finely chopped garlic and shallots, a big dollop of tomato puree then add the packet mix, a lot of stock, a sprinkling of Italian herb mix, (I even add the last remnants of a piece of parmesan which adds such flavour). bring to the boil and simmer well in my stockpot, stirring from time to time. Then I tip in tiny pasta stars, or pasta Christmas tree shapes, and simmer until the past is softened. A great big bowl of this soup is brilliant during or after Christmas or New Year.
Christmas morning is always a time that I love to just sit and watch the grandchildren open their presents, so this year planning ahead for Christmas Dinner will be a necessity. I’ve decided to go through my recipes, ancient, old and new, to figure out what to freeze, what I can prepare 2 days ahead and what would make life easier for me so that I will both enjoying Christmas Day with the family and cooking the meal. Basically, this information is to help me plan for Christmas Day, but if you want to learn by my mistakes (of which there have been many), or are new to cooking Christmas Dinner, please help yourself.
To Freeze or Prepare Ahead
Buy Sprouts on a Stalk, twist off stalk, peel and trim the base, blanch for a minute in hot water, drain, then put in freezing cold water to chill. Drain well, then pack in boil in the bag freezer bags. On Christmas morning, take out of freezer, keep in bag, bring water to the boil and, if just keeping simple, cook the sprouts for 7 – 8 minutes. If you just want to part-cook them, only boil for 2/3 mins, then drain well. You can stir fry them at the last minute with pancetta an ginger, add a knob of butter and a good twist of black pepper.
Sausage and bacon rolls (or Pigs in Blankets as they are now called) are so easy. I buy good chipolata sausages, and lot of streaky bacon, then wind the bacon around the sausages, trying to cover most of the sausages. Put these into a freezer bag, and freeze. I take them out of the freezer on Christmas Even, put in the fridge, then make sure I take them out of the fridge 2 hours before cooking. I always add a big glass of Madeira wine to the Turkey for it’s last 3/4 of an hour in the oven, and I add the sausage/bacon rolls to the base of the Turkey dish to cook. They have all the lovely Turkey flavour, and when the Turkey is taken out of the oven, I put the sausage/bacon rolls on a tray just to crisp up for the final 10 minutes before serving. I make loads of these, because we like to eat them on Boxing Day.
The same goes for my Forcemeat Stuffing (click for Recipe). This can be made weeks ahead as a dry mix and frozen. Take out of the Freezer on Christmas Eve, same as the sausage/bacon rolls, put in the fridge and take out 2 hours before cooking. Follow the recipe. We all love to eat these Forcemeat Stuffings hot and crispy on Christmas Day, but I make loads as we also love to eat them cold on Boxing Day with the remnants of the Turkey, the Sausage & Bacon Rolls and, my favourite, weird as it may sound, dipped into cold Bread Sauce.
One year, when catering for a lot of family and friends, I decided to have both Roast Potatoes plus Duchesse Potatoes. So cooked a lot of peeled potatoes in a pan of boiling water, until soft, then I drained them well, added a big dollop of butter, some grated Parmesan cheese, a beaten egg and seasoned well to taste. I then used a big icing nozzle and piped this mashed potato into Duchesse style whorls onto a baking tray, cooled them then put them into the freezer until frozen. When fully frozen, I careful put them in a plastic freezer box and froze them for 2 weeks. They needed about an hour to defrost, then 20 minutes in the oven at 200C/180F. The addition of the beaten egg helps to make them gently brown on the ridges. The children love these.
Confession Time! I just love Bread Sauce – the gentle taste and smell of cloves is one of my favourite aromas. I have made it from scratch may times, sticking cloves into an onion and infusing the milk etc., but I have recently given up because I find the packet mixes of ‘Luxury Bread Sauce’ are as good as if not better than my homemade sauce. So instead of making it and freezing it, I just follow the instructions, usually having to add 300ml of milk per packet, and I may add an extra pinch of dried cloves and a grating of nutmeg plus a spoonful of cream towards the end.
Now, Vegetables. To save time on Christmas Day, you can partly prepare your Roast Potatoes. Peel and parboil for five minute, drain really well and cool. Open freeze on a tray for 15 minutes then carefully place in a freezer box. On Christmas Day, I usually heat a roasting try with oil, and when hot, tip the defrosted potatoes on to it. Cook for 10 minutes then take out and move aside. Later, when the Turkey is taken out, put the potatoes in for 35/40 minutes, turning over occasionally. But if you want the lovely fluffy roast potatoes, you will have to cook them from scratch on Christmas Day to fluff them up in the pan before you roast them. To save on washing up,I first put the roasting tin with oil in the oven to get hot, then I boil my potatoes for 5-6 minutes, drain and fluff up in the pan. Tip in the hot oil for 10 minutes, turn over, then take out of the oven. Finish off the roasting when the Turkey is out of the oven.
If you want to get ahead with your carrots or parsnips, peel and parboil for only three minutes, drain, cool and freeze. Take all out of the freezer on Christmas Eve and put into the fridge. Then cook or boil as normal. Carrots and Parsnips are brilliant par boiled then tipped into a pre-heated roasting pan with hot oil for 25-30 minutes. Add a splash of Maple Syrup or Honey towards the end of cooking. Gorgeous!
All this eliminates as many dirty pans as possible on Christmas Day.
PART TWO OF PLANNING AHEAD FOR CHRISTMAS DINNER WILL COME IN A DAY OR TWO
I THOUGHT I WOULD GIVE YOU PART ONE SO THAT YOU COULD BEGIN TO PLAN AHEAD.